Ponting pinpoints mature Stokes as England's key Ashes threat

The new maturity of World Cup hero Ben Stokes sits the most significant menace to Australia’s Ashes bid, said Ricky Ponting, who matched him to Andrew Flintoff as the “real heartbeat” of the England team.

Stokes played a critical role in England’s World Cup triumph, re-establishing himself as a crucial member after an off-field incident that had advanced his career. The all-rounder was banned and punished by the England and Wales Cricket Board for making the game into disgrace following a street brawl during a night out in Bristol in 2017.

It marked him stripped of the Test vice-captaincy, and he missed the last Ashes tour to Australia before moving cleared of illegal charges in a high-profile case.

Ponting, who did Australian coach Justin Langer’s assistant as the World Cup, has been fascinated with how hard Stokes has managed to redeem himself. “It looks like he’s playing with a lot of skills,” former Australia captain Ponting told cricket.com.au late on Wednesday.

“He doesn’t look like he’s in much of a rush now as he might have been. The thing about his character as well, he’s a big, strong, brash person with a bit of ego … and I think as a younger person everything stayed even out one speed. “To me, (during the World Cup) it looks like he (was) able to read situations and play situations respectively. That’s a bit of culture and understanding his own game and knowing what his team wants him to do.”

That could spell problem for Australia next month when they start their quest to win their opening Ashes series in England since 2001.

“He’s an important man and more an important man because I think he’s that real moment for their team, a little like ‘Freddie’ Flintoff in Ashes series finished by,” said Ponting.

“Whenever they were in trouble, and they wanted something, they tend to go to those sort of guys. Australia needs to keep him quiet if we’re going to win the series.”

Stokes has been held for this week’s one-off Test upon minnows Ireland at Lord’s where England looked to be nursing a World Cup hangover as they collapsed to an embarrassing 85 all out in their first innings on Wednesday.

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